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Encinitas affirms Planning Commission appointment after concerns voiced about code violation

The downtown Encinitas sign.
(Charlie Neuman / San Diego Union-Tribune/Zuma Pre)

City employees directed to tweak regulations to allow someone to move from one board to another

The Encinitas City Council reaffirmed its selection of Robert Prendergast to replace Bruce Ehlers on the city’s Planning Commission after some residents raised concerns that its decision last month may have violated city codes.

Prendergast, a managing director of investment sales at Jones Lang LaSalle, was selected in late May to fill the vacancy created when council members ordered former planning commissioner Bruce Ehlers to resign. Ehlers’ supporters have charged that the council not only removed him for political reasons — Ehlers is currently running for a seat on the council — but also botched the appointment of his replacement by picking someone who was serving on another city commission.

They note that current city code declares, “Appointees to any city commission will not be selected from among members currently serving on any other city commission.”

Out of an “abundance of caution,” Prendergast hasn’t participated in any commission meetings while city employees investigate whether the council followed city codes when it selected him, City Clerk Kathy Hollywood said during the Wednesday, June 8, meeting.

Council members said the code probably needed to be clarified and unanimously voted to direct city staff to pursue this, but said the code’s intent wasn’t to prevent someone who was on one commission from applying to another, as long as that person resigned from the first post immediately after being picked for the second one.

Prendergast was selected for the Planning Commission during the council’s May 25 meeting. He submitted his resignation from the city’s Mobility & Traffic Safety Commission June 2 — the same date as the Planning Commission’s first meeting since his appointment.

“When we were considering these applications, I didn’t think twice (about selecting someone from a city commission to serve on another commission),” Councilmember Tony Kranz said.

Councilmember Joy Lyndes, who supported rewriting the city code but opposed Prendergast’s appointment, said she had first-hand experience with commissioners moving from one commission to another. When she served on the city’s Environmental Commission, three of her fellow appointees moved to other commissions and the city benefited from their previous experience in their new postings, she said.

However, five public speakers Wednesday, June 8, said the council could have avoided the problem entirely if it had picked one of the two other applicants for the Planning Commission spot. The other two applicants were engineering company president Frederick Snedeker and Daniel Vaughn, biopharmaceutical consultant who co-founded and serves as president of Encinitas Residents for Responsible Development.

Cindy Cremona, who is running for mayor, said the council “smashed open a hornets’ nest” of issues when it selected Prendergast for the Planning Commission. She added that she believes the process was handled so badly that it would be best if Prendergast resigned.

The city was faced with the sudden vacancy on the Planning Commission after council members ordered Ehlers to resign in April, saying that they didn’t believe he could be impartial on housing development issues. They cited legal paperwork that Ehlers, who is the key author of the city’s 2013 growth-control initiative, filed supporting a court case against the city last year and recent comments he had made to the news media regarding housing issues. Ehlers supporters have called his ouster a vindictive political stunt that was done to silence him because he is running for a seat on the City Council.

Ehlers’ supporters lobbied the council in May to select Vaughn as his replacement on the Planning Commission.

Lyndes supported Vaughn’s appointment, saying he was the candidate who appeared to have the strongest community support, but other council members opposed it. Mayor Catherine Blakespear said it would “give her pause” to select Vaughn because he leads a group that has filed several lawsuits against the city regarding a controversial apartment complex development.


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